Emma Isaacs: One smart chick
Emma Isaacs is an entrepreneur in every sense of the word. The Business Chicks owner has never worked for anyone but herself; buying four businesses, turning them profitable and selling one – and she’s not much past her 30th birthday.
When Isaacs bought Business Chicks in 2007 it had a community of 250 members, which she’s grown to a figure of 25,800 since. She saw a gap in the highly crowded women’s networking space and filled it with her famed country-wide event program. Members have signed up in droves to be part of the Business Chicks community, enjoying access to speakers like Sir Richard Branson, Olivia Newton-John, Dannii Minogue, Ita Buttrose, Deborra-lee Furness and Sir Bob Geldof.
But Business Chicks is no longer just an events business. Isaacs has evolved her organisation into a media and content business that enjoyed 157 percent growth in 2011, and looks set to see the similar growth again this year.
Isaacs’ quiet self-assuredness and entrepreneurial spirit has allowed her to build a rock-solid company in just half a decade, and she’s sharing her proudest achievements and most challenging moments with Dynamic Business.
Q. What were a couple of the initial challenges you faced in getting it off the ground? How did you overcome these?
When I first started Business Chicks I was exiting out of my first company (a recruitment firm) but for a while I attempted to run both companies at the same time. I’d get up before the sun, race to the office and sit on the floor processing ticket sales through the EFTPOS terminal or trying to convince a speaker to grace our stage. As my recruitment team trickled in for the day, I’d switch gears to the other business and when the day was finished I’d start working on Business Chicks again.
Working like that wasn’t sustainable, nor was it particularly enjoyable as I wasn’t being supported by my business partner at the time – rightly so I guess! It was a relief when I sold my first business and had the opportunity to focus solely on Business Chicks.
Q. You’ve never worked for anyone else – where do you think your entrepreneurial qualities come from?
I think true entrepreneurs are born, not made. You’re either going to be comfortable with a lot of risk – you’ll be willing to put your house on the line for a new business, perhaps take a leap of faith and do something that no one else has done – or you’re going to find it hard to bridge the gap between security and the unknown.
I’m not sure where it came from with me. My Mum’s a teacher and my Dad’s an accountant, but I’ve always been comfortable with not knowing what’s around the corner and had a kind of self-assuredness that I’ll be able to navigate through whatever’s thrown at me.
Q. What’s your proudest business achievement to date?
The relationships I have with my team and the culture we’ve been able to create. My general manager Amber has been with me since day one and Olivia who heads up our brand and partnerships team has worked with me for over eight years now, first in the recruitment company and now at Business Chicks.
The experience of working with Business Chicks is incredibly fulfilling, to be able to work in a fast-growth entrepreneurial business that inspires many people is exhilarating. We achieved 157 percent growth last year and are on target to do similar figures this year. We have a no-nonsense approach to business and we just get stuff done. There’s no room for politics, drama or excuses – we’re a business that instills personal accountability in our people and I expect excellence and value effort.
Q. What do you find to be the most challenging thing about running your business?
I’m sure my challenges are no different to most entrepreneurs. It’s finessing the resources within the business and constantly assessing whether we have the right talent in the right roles and how to maximise the intelligence within the organisation. We’re a modern business with opportunities to be pulled in lots of different directions, so the challenge is to keep my team focused on our goals and inspired by our vision.
Q. You have a lot to do with women in business (obviously!), are there any you find particularly inspiring?
Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg is an outstanding operator as is Ariana Huffington of the Huffington Post. Locally it’d be three of my closest girlfriends; Maria Sipka who’s running a start-up in Silicon Valley, Narelle Anderson who’s dominating the reverse vending/recycling industry here with Envirobank, and Naomi Simson from RedBalloon.
Q. If you could offer one piece of advice to aspiring entrepreneurs, what would it be?
Don’t just start up a business because you’re convinced it’s a good idea. Test it, sure, but be prepared to walk away if it’s never going to go anywhere. And work non-stop on your network – helping others, promoting others, doing favours, being generous – that what gets you known and respected, and reputation is absolutely everything.